Learning to ski or snowboard is easy.
First, be under 21.Then slip, slide, tumble and bruise your way down the most difficult trail on the highest mountain you can find. Repeat eight hours a day, seven days a week until mommy and daddy’s money runs out or Christmas break is over.
If you want to hire an equally youthful instructor to dig you out of an avalanche or dial 911 after your unsuccessful attempt to ski the trees off the blackest of diamonds, go ahead. At least they can tell you where the local party spots are.
But if you are on the other side of 30 – even 25 – you might want to learn skiing or boarding with a bit more leisure and a lot less pain. You might want to enjoy the mountain, not just conquer it. And you might want to do it in a place where they do not funnel advanced – and often grumpy – skiers onto beginner’s slopes.
If that is your story, you definitely want to check out the Loveland Ski Area an hour west of Denver and Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen. Two resorts that some say offer the best teaching not just in Colorado, but the entire country.
But first a few words about Colorado skiing. The snow and mountains and views combine to make it among the best in the world. But beginners just don’t belong on many of the trails. They are just too demanding.
For most resorts, learning is an after thought – unless you find the right mountain. Loveland Ski Area and Buttermilk are the right mountains.
“I’ve visited ski and snowboard resorts all over the Western United States,” said California businessman Fred Wanke. “And most places say they welcome beginners, but they really do not. And it is easy to get intimidated and quit. That’s why I tell my friends to start their ski trips at Loveland or Buttermilk. You can still get your freak on at both of these places if that is what you – or people with you -- want. But you can also learn in a more comfortable environment without worrying about some gonzo snowboard freak running you down.”
Loveland and Buttermilk both feature huge teaching areas with wide and gently sloping trails; ideal for beginners or those who need to find their ski legs after a long absence. And you do not have to share them with someone with a full head of steam fresh off the black trail heading down to the lift for Round Two.
“One of the things that bothers me at some resorts is how they mingle advanced skiers with beginners taking lessons,” Wanke said. “That is why it is good to keep them separate.”
Buttermilk offers 21 miles of trails, about 1/3 of which are for beginners. Some over a mile long.
Wide open trails that offer something more than express trips to the local emergency room are nice, but the right instructor can be even more important.
“When I went to Loveland they matched a few of us over-40 boarders with an over 40 teacher,” Wanke said. “Same at Buttermilk. We did not even have to ask. There was a lot less rushing and a lot less emphasis on speed and a lot more on learning at our own pace and enjoying a great day on the mountain. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I got. And that is why I always start my trips at one of those places.”